A hiring caught my attention last week. ESPN 97.5 and 92.5 in Houston announced the addition of Vanessa Richardson and Paul Gallant as its new midday radio team. Brand new hosts and radio teams are announced all the time. What made this one stand out? Well, longtime market personality Charlie Pallilo mentioned that he was no longer with the station. The very next day, the new hires were announced.
You don’t need to be a math major to understand that 2 + 2 = 4. The new hires didn’t take long at all to be announced. There weren’t rotating hosts for two months while the station figured out exactly what it wanted to do next. It’s an example that showcases something we should already know; unless a host has a resume that would put Colin Cowherd or Dan Patrick to shame, that person better have some connections.
Now, please don’t read what I’m not writing. This isn’t about sour grapes or crying foul — I hope the new show is a lot of fun and very successful for both Richardson and Gallant — I’m only stressing the importance of networking. I’m not questioning the credentials of the new hosts at all; I’m just pointing out that this is the real world.
Any program director in the country that’s any good has a list of hosts that could one day be on their station. PDs don’t just wait until they have an opening to say, “Oh man, guess I better find out which hosts are out there.” Good PDs are a step ahead. To be on their list, hosts need to have talent and they also need to know people.
Way back in 2010, I attended a sports radio conference in LA. I was sitting there listening to each speaker emphasize the importance of standing out; hosts won’t sound different on the air if they’re saying the same thing as others. That’s when it hit me like a Mike Tyson uppercut; it works the exact same way with networking.
It’s funny to me; we hear all of this stuff about cutting through once we have the job, but we don’t hear the same message while we’re looking for the job. I’m here to tell you that it’s the same game. Before you get the opportunity to cut through on the air, you have to be able to cut through with programmers while networking.
I used to live in Nashville. There are some really talented musicians that haven’t made it yet and are stuck playing the bar scene. Why is that? They either don’t have the right look, or they don’t have the right connections. The good news for hosts is that the right look isn’t necessary in radio, but connections are definitely needed.
During the radio conference in 2010, I took a picture with programming rockstar Bruce Gilbert. He was nice enough to stop for a minute before rushing out to catch a flight. I told him there was a story behind the picture we had just taken and that I would email him and let him know what it was about. He was either genuinely interested, or Bruce missed his true calling as a Hollywood actor.
The story was that I had a tryout in Seattle back in 2009 when ESPN 710 was getting ready to launch.
They were really excited to fly me up, but it didn’t work out. I wasn’t offered a job. I asked the PD, Owen Murphy, if there was anything I could do better on my next interview. He bluntly said, “Yeah, dress better.” When I sounded surprised he doubled down and basically said, “This is a top-20 market. What are you doing?”
I wasn’t wearing a Pat McAfee tank top during the interview, but I wasn’t wearing a suit either. I was an idiot for not looking the part. A year later at the sports radio conference, I was wearing a suit when I took the picture with Bruce. I explained the story to him and said that I wouldn’t make that same mistake going forward.
Bruce didn’t email me back and say, “Holy cow, you just blew my mind. Can you start Monday?” It doesn’t work like that. But it was a memorable way to make a first impression. You can’t just hand out business cards or snap pictures, say thanks, and expect that person to remember who you are. Trust me, they won’t. It’s vital to stand out.
Sure, it can be difficult at times. It’s not like you can hand out a business card and say, “And for my next act I’m going to saw my assistant in half and make her disappear.” It isn’t easy to always be creative, but guess what most of your competition is doing while networking? The easy thing. Always try to find ways to stand out and be unique.
Many moons ago, I got to sit down with ESPN heavy hitters Louise Cornetta and Dave Roberts. Almost immediately, they both asked me, “What makes you different?”
Hell, I don’t know. I go to church but also love heavy metal? It’s a tricky question to answer. “I tell it like it is.” Most hosts do. “I’m a mixture of content and entertainment.” Most hosts are. I felt like I got a Gatorade bath. It was jolting.
The point is that this is how programmers think. They aren’t looking for the common person or cookie-cutter host. They want someone who’s different and sounds different. If that’s what programmers desire, how do you think firing off a normal email or simply handing out a business card is going to land? Badly at best. Maybe do them a favor and pass out bigger business cards so they can at least hide their gigantic yawns.
This is why the BSM Summit is a golden opportunity for hosts to network creatively. You don’t have to only say how you’re different, you can also show it. Plus, you can make personal connections. These programmers aren’t just buying your work, they’re also buying you as a person. How are they supposed to buy you if they don’t know much about you?
Two years ago at the Summit, I got to host a panel with some gambling experts. The scheduled host, RJ Bell, wasn’t able to make it. I was probably locking in a two-leg parlay when Jason Barrett messaged me about filling in. No problem, this I can do. It also let people know something about me; I like gambling. The more familiar programmers are with hosts, the better. Even if it’s, “Hey, you’re the guy who did that thing,” at least it’s something. Familiarity is very important.
Networking is also about connecting with the person, not just the programmer. There is so much more to people than just their job. The most random stuff can cause a hiring manager to open themselves up to you. Maybe it’s a common love for pulled pork or the metal band Pantera. I once told Denver programmer, Dave Tepper, that I epically bombed at the Laugh Factory years ago. As a longtime comic, he loved that story.
Networking is a mandatory part of this business. Jobs don’t last forever. Jobs go bye bye. Banking on stability in sports radio is sort of like expecting to find Bigfoot. Think of it like this, your phone won’t charge itself; you have to connect it to the charger. It works the same way with jobs. Dream jobs don’t magically fall from the heavens right into your lap; you need to connect with people for doors to open.
Richardson and Gallant had established themselves as fixtures in Houston before landing their newest opportunity. If they were approached by ESPN 97.5, good for them. If they did some networking and developed relationships that gave them an advantage, even better. It’s weak to say, “Hey, no fair.” You can either whine on the sidelines, or you can be a grown up and play the game. Don’t let somebody else beat you to the punch. You’ll stand a much better chance of getting hired if you network creatively.
Being Wrong On-Air Isn’t A Bad Thing
…if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign.
In the press conference after the Warriors won their fourth NBA title in eight years, Steph Curry referenced a very specific gesture from a very specific episode of Get Up that aired in August 2021.
“Clearly remember some experts and talking heads putting up the big zero,” Curry said, then holding up a hollowed fist to one eye, looking through it as if it were a telescope.
“How many championships we would have going forward because of everything we went through.”
Yep, Kendrick Perkins and Domonique Foxworth each predicted the Warriors wouldn’t win a single title over the course of the four-year extension Curry had just signed. The Warriors won the NBA title and guess what? Curry gets to gloat.
The funny part to me was the people who felt Perkins or Foxworth should be mad or embarrassed. Why? Because they were wrong?
That’s part of the game. If you’re a host or analyst who is never wrong in a prediction, it’s more likely that you’re excruciatingly boring than exceedingly smart. Being wrong is not necessarily fun, but it’s not a bad thing in this business.
You shouldn’t try to be wrong, but you shouldn’t be afraid of it, either. And if you are wrong, own it. Hold your L as I’ve heard the kids say. Don’t try to minimize it or explain it or try to point out how many other people are wrong, too. Do what Kendrick Perkins did on Get Up the day after the Warriors won the title.
“When they go on to win it, guess what?” He said, sitting next to Mike Greenberg. “You have to eat that.”
Do not do what Perkins did later that morning on First Take.
Perkins: “I come on here and it’s cool, right? Y’all can pull up Perk receipts and things to that nature. And then you give other people a pass like J-Will.”
Jason Williams: “I don’t get passes on this show.”
Perkins: “You had to, you had a receipt, too, because me and you both picked the Memphis Grizzlies to beat the Golden State Warriors, but I’m OK with that. I’m OK with that. Go ahead Stephen A. I know you’re about to have fun and do your thing. Go ahead.”
Stephen A. Smith: “First of all, I’m going to get serious for a second with the both of you, especially you, Perk, and I want to tell you something right now. Let me throw myself on Front Street, we can sit up there and make fun of me. You know how many damn Finals predictions I got wrong? I don’t give a damn. I mean, I got a whole bunch of them wrong. Ain’t no reason to come on the air and defend yourself. Perk, listen man. You were wrong. And we making fun, and Steph Curry making fun of you. You laugh at that my brother. He got you today. That’s all. He got you today.”
It’s absolutely great advice, and if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign. It means they’re not just listening, but holding on to what you say. You matter. Don’t ruin that by getting defensive and testy.
WORTH EVERY PENNY
I did a double-take when I saw Chris Russo’s list of the greatest QB-TE combinations ever on Wednesday and this was before I ever got to Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski listed at No. 5. It was actually No. 4 that stopped me cold: Starr-Kramer.
My first thought: Jerry Kramer didn’t play tight end.
My second thought: I must be unaware of this really good tight end from the Lombardi-era Packers.
After further review, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, either. Ron Kramer did play for the Lombardi-era Packers, and he was a good player. He caught 14 scoring passes in a three-year stretch where he really mattered, but he failed to catch a single touchdown pass in six of the 10 NFL seasons he played. He was named first-team All-Pro once and finished his career with 229 receptions.
Now this is not the only reason that this is an absolutely terrible list. It is the most egregious, however. Bart Starr and Kramer are not among the 25 top QB-TE combinations in NFL history let alone the top five. And if you’re to believe Russo’s list, eighty percent of the top tandems played in the NFL in the 30-year window from 1958 to 1987 with only one tandem from the past 30 years meriting inclusion when this is the era in which tight end production has steadily climbed.
Then I found out that Russo is making $10,000 per appearance on “First Take.”
My first thought: You don’t have to pay that much to get a 60-something white guy to grossly exaggerate how great stuff used to be.
My second thought: That might be the best $10,000 ESPN has ever spent.
Once a week, Russo comes on and draws a reaction out of a younger demographic by playing a good-natured version of Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man. Russo groans to JJ Redick about the lack of fundamental basketball skills in today’s game or he proclaims the majesty of a tight end-quarterback pairing that was among the top five in its decade, but doesn’t sniff the top five of all-time.
And guess what? It works. Redick rolls his eyes, asks Russo which game he’s watching, and on Wednesday he got me to spend a good 25 minutes looking up statistics for some Packers tight end I’d never heard of. Not satisfied with that, I then moved on to determine Russo’s biggest omission from the list, which I’ve concluded is Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, who connected for 89 touchdowns over 15 seasons, which is only 73 more touchdowns than Kramer scored in his career. John Elway and Shannon Sharpe should be on there, too.
Money Isn’t The Key Reason Why Sellers Sell Sports Radio
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions.
A radio salesperson’s value being purely tied to money is overrated to me. Our managers all believe that our main motivation for selling radio is to make more money. They see no problem in asking us to sell more in various ways because it increases our paycheck. We are offered more money to sell digital, NTR, to sell another station in the cluster, weekend remotes, new direct business, or via the phone in 8 hours.
But is that why you sell sports radio?
In 2022, the Top 10 highest paying sales jobs are all in technology. Not a media company among them. You could argue that if it were all about making money, we should quit and work in tech. Famous bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed twenty banks over twenty years. He reportedly said,” that’s where the money is”. Sutton is the classic example of a person who wanted what money could provide and was willing to do whatever it took to get it, BUT he also admitted he liked robbing banks and felt alive. So, Sutton didn’t do it just for the money.
A salesperson’s relationship with money and prestige is also at the center of the play Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman is an aging and failing salesman who decides he is worth more dead than alive and kills himself in an auto accident giving his family the death benefit from his life insurance policy. Loman wasn’t working for the money. He wanted the prestige of what money could buy for himself and his family.
Recently, I met a woman who spent twelve years selling radio from 1999-2011. I asked her why she left her senior sales job. She said she didn’t like the changes in the industry. Consolidation was at its peak, and most salespeople were asked to do more with less help. She described her radio sales job as one with “golden handcuffs”. The station paid her too much money to quit even though she hated the job. She finally quit. The job wasn’t worth the money to her.
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions. I never wanted to sell anything else and specifically enjoyed selling programming centered around reaching fans of Boise State University football. That’s it. Very similar to what Mark Glynn and his KJR staff experience when selling Kraken hockey and Huskies football.
I never thought selling sports radio was the best way to make money. I just enjoyed the way I could make money. I focused on the process and what I enjoyed about the position—the freedom to come and go and set my schedule for the most part. I concentrated on annual contracts and clients who wanted to run radio commercials over the air to get more traffic and build their brand.
Most of my clients were local direct and listened to the station. Some other sales initiatives had steep learning curves, were one-day events or contracted out shaky support staff. In other words, the money didn’t motivate me enough. How I spent my time was more important.
So, if you are in management, maybe consider why your sales staff is working at the station. Because to me, they’d be robbing banks if it were all about making lots of money.
Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table
Demetri Ravanos welcomes the two newest members of the BSM Podcast Network to the show. Brady Farkas and Stephen Strom join for a roundtable discussion that includes the new media, Sage Steele and Roger Goodell telling Congress that Dave Portnoy isn’t banned from NFL events.